Science Fiction / Thriller
Date Published: February 9, 2018
Publisher: SF Productions
For Hayden Cross, a military investigator in the far future, whether his wife faked her death is the question that is probably going to get him killed. Having lost the only job that kept him sane, he has few resources and fewer leads. Oh, and a sadistic crime lord really wants to kill him.
As he fights through an underworld of fanatical rebels, callous bounty hunters, and corrupt cops, each step takes him closer to the truth about his wife’s fate and the oppressive government he once loyally served. On the way he may even liberate a planet and stop a war ... but only if he betrays everyone he loves.
Supremacy’s Shadow Excerpt
Hayden’s door chimed recognized access, which didn’t make sense. Had his new landlord come by with more paperwork? The door rattled open.
Hayden spotted a rifle tip. Then he threw himself behind the black pre-furnished couch. Then someone started shooting at him.
Just another day in Star’s Landing.
A knockout round whizzed over his head and splattered blue gel across the floor-length window. Another buried itself in the couch, buzzing like an angry insect. Hayden’s pistol sat on his bed, entirely out of reach, but the knockout rounds told him something interesting. His attackers wanted him alive.
“Come out!” a heavily accented voice shouted. It sounded Russian or Ukrainian, a legacy from the many cultures on the homeships. “Give up now and I only break small bones!”
Tyler Ryke (or someone else) had found him, somehow, and that wasn’t really fair given all his precautions. Still, Hayden’s balancers kept him calm and focused on his next best move. That was taking this thug alive so he could find out who sent him. Heavy boots rushed the couch.
Hayden launched himself from behind the couch and drove his shoulder into his attacker’s gut. He also bounced off, shoulder pulsing with agony. He felt like he had just shoulder-checked a wall.
The impact should have emptied his opponent’s lungs. Instead it sent the big man stumbling sideways and sent his knockout rifle clattering to the floor. The thug was a pale-skinned giant with a crew cut and a good half meter on Hayden. He snorted and rushed.
Hayden dashed inside a clumsy punch and sent two open-palmed blows into the man’s ribs, but he only bruised his hands on concealed armor. Flexsteel. It was the only thing light enough to go under clothes this thin, and it cost a small fortune.
The flexible and bulletproof armor covered Hayden’s assailant from neck to toes, which meant he needed to go for the eyes, balls, or nose ring. Teeth weren’t an option, this time, because this particular attacker had sharpened them to dagger points.
“Nice teeth,” Hayden said. “Lose a bet?”
Daggermouth grunted and lumbered forward. Hayden ducked past and kicked the back of the man’s knee hard enough to drop him into eye-poking range. He was just about to gouge when he noticed the second man outside his door. This one had decided to aim.
The knockout round took Hayden center mass. He woke face down on a cold floor, with Daggermouth’s knee digging into his back. The man weighed as much as a Vindicator.
How long had he been out? Not long. He knew that from Daggermouth’s heavy breathing and how much salty blood had gathered in his mouth. They wanted him talking and mobile, and quick. They probably wanted to ask him some questions.
“Careful there!” The man who’d shot him actually sounded worried. “Ryke wants him alive!”
Daggermouth panted like a giant dog. “Little mouse isn’t going anywhere.”
So these men wereRyke’s thugs. Hayden stayed limp. The voltage had not left any permanent damage, but he could not give these thugs any sign that he was lucid. Not until he did something that required being lucid.
The second thug closed with the distinctive swish of soft shoes. Sandals? Who the hell wore sandals on a bounty hunt?
“You awake, Cross?” the second man asked.
Hayden just drooled on the floor.
“Ease up. Let him breathe.” He did sound worried.
Hayden felt the pressure in his back ease, though not enough. He couldn’t get up without getting beaten down. His too-calm brain considered and then discarded solutions.
“Sit him up,” the sandaled man ordered.
Daggermouth’s calloused hands rolled Hayden over, pulled him up, and propped him against the container wall. Hayden let his head loll forward. Something hard slapped his cheek.
The blow snapped his eyes open before he was ready, and that revealed his captor: a slim Asian man, like Zack. This man had a thick shock of purple hair and a gameshow host’s chin.
“Hello!” The new thug fixed him with a blinding smile. “I’m Slim.”
“Hey, Slim.” Ryke’s thugs were cheerier than Hayden remembered. “How’s Ryke doing?”
“He was fine last time I saw him. Torturing some guy.”
“You know you’ve got the wrong apartment, right?”
Slim clucked his tongue. “I thought you did this for a living, Cross.”
“Who’s Cross?” Hayden feigned confusion. “My name’s Bucky Wonderballs.”
Daggermouth punched Hayden in the gut. Hayden curled up, coughing up his lungs, and casually locked the commlink inside his jacket on open transmit. Hired muscle always fell for the old “punch him in the gut” play.
“Ow,” Hayden added, when he had his breath back.
“It’s just procedure, roughing you up a bit.” Slim almost sounded like he was apologizing. “Now who else knows you’re here?”
Hayden forced his torso straight. “I didn’t know I’d be having visitors today, let alone two of them.” Zack could hear everything now. “What if I offered you something to let me go? Either of you need a used sedan?”
Hayden didn’t glance at the floor-length window looking out onto the street. It was bulletproof, but a bigger projectile would go right through it. He hoped Zack remembered how they’d solved that problem in Trifold City.
“Watch the street,” Slim told Daggermouth, which was about the best Hayden could ask. “Now answer my question please, Cross. Does the Supremacy know you’re back in Star’s Landing? Does anyone?”
Daggermouth stood in front of the window now, pressed against it. He was either very brave or very stupid. Hayden had his suspicions.
“Cross?” Slim asked.
Hayden ignored him. “Hey, shredmouth. You’re blocking my view of the street.” Zack could hear that, too.
Slim sighed heavily. “So we’re going the ignore me route. Fine. I was hoping you’d talk to me, but I know you’ll talk to Ryke. Get up.”
Hayden complied because that would make it easier to dodge. “You don’t have to shove me up against the wall, dickhead.”
“You know—” Slim started, but then Hayden’s commlink beeped.
“Hey!” Slim pulled Hayden’s jacket open. “Your commlink’s on?”
Hayden shrugged. “Ever had a roadkill taco?”
“What?” Slim asked.
“What?” asked Hayden.
Zack’s sedan crashed through the window wall, popping Daggermouth up on its hood. Hayden flattened himself against the container wall as Slim leapt into the air like a circus performer. He almost cleared the hurtling sedan before it clipped his hip and spun him around. He went down hard.
Zack’s sedan stopped when it hit the far wall and closed door, crushing Daggermouth’s legs between itself and buckled metal. Flexsteel could stop just about anything, but it was called flexsteel because it could compress when necessary. Daggermouth’s shriek of agony as his legs got crushed would have been comical, if Hayden was a terrible person.
Slim clutched his hip, gawking at Zack’s terrible parking job, so Hayden didn’t go for his gun. He jumped on Slim instead, pinning the thug before he could get up. They struggled until Hayden kneed Slim hard in the balls.
Slim gasped and curled up. He glared in righteous indignation, as if Hayden had broken some unwritten rule. As if he had crossed a line. That was when Hayden grabbed his gun.
He stood over his former captor as the gullwing doors of Zack’s sedan thumped the container’s low ceiling. Zack hopped out, glanced at the half-crushed man vomiting blood all over his slightly crumpled hood, and frowned at Hayden. “This is your fault, you know. This thing is a rental.”
Slim squirmed on the floor. “Really?” He coughed and clutched his damaged components. “You go right for the balls?”
“Listen, kid, you shot me.” Hayden knelt beside Slim as Daggermouth gasped and choked. He tried to block it out, tried to ignore it, but it still made his stomach churn.
Crushing a man’s legs made for an agonizing death, and Hayden pondered putting Daggermouth out with one clean shot to the head. Yet he’d have plenty of time for guilt later. He still had more little red pills.
“Time for twenty questions.” Hayden pressed his pistol to Slim’s thigh. “Or bullets?”
Slim’s palms popped up. “Ask me anything! I’m quite mercenary, I assure you.” Even in obvious, excruciating pain, he still had a smile on his face. “What do you want to know?”
This sort of bald-faced cowardice was refreshing. Still pinned against the wall, Daggermouth shuddered, died, and did what people did when they died, which was even more horrible in a small apartment. Hayden measured his breathing and blocked out the smell.
“How’d you find this shipping unit?” Zack asked.
“First,” Slim said, “I bribed the facial recognition office at the starport! After that, we tailed you via streetcam.”
“Does Ryke know where you are now?” Hayden asked.
“Not from us! Hans and I didn’t want to share your bounty. If we’d split it, we would have had enough to retire.”
“How did Ryke even know I was here?”
“No idea!” Slim said. “But he told us an hour ago.”
Had Hayden been spotted at the Painted Tiger? At the starport? It didn’t matter. What mattered is that Ryke didn’t know where Hayden was right now. Also, so long as Ryke didn’t know why Hayden had risked coming back here in the first place, his plan to rescue Cassie could still work.
“Here’s the good news.” Hayden glanced out the shattered window, at the disturbingly empty street, and imagined the air out there was nicer. “So long as you keep talking, I might not actually kill you. To start—”
Zack gripped Hayden’s arm and tapped the side of his head, one eye distant. “There’s armed men approaching on foot from both ends of this block, two and two.” Zack must have one of his contacts sending an eyeball feed to his PBA, off streetcams. “We’re boxed in.”
Just what kind of shoddy encryption were the streetcams running these days? “So Slim lied to us?” Hayden pointed the pistol.
“I didn’t lie!” Slim said, eyes wide. “Ryke’s got everyone searching for you. I didn’t call for backup, ‘cause like I said. Big bounty.”
Hayden kept the sight between Slim’s eyes. “Who’s coming for us?”
“If they’re slow and moving like military, my money’s on Martin Zane, Ryke’s second cousin. I once saw him shoot a man for bumping his autocar. He likes amputating things.”
“We should go,” Zack said.
Hayden pulled a pair of zipcuffs from his duffel bag. “You’re in the back, Slim. If you try anything, you’re out the door.”
“Deal!” Slim offered his joined wrists.
About the Author
T. Eric Bakutis is an author and game designer based in Maryland. He is happily married and shares his house with a vicious, predatory cat and a sad-faced, cowardly dog. He’s been working as a professional videogame developer for over eight years. His first fantasy trilogy, Tales of the Five Provinces, is now complete, and his first science fiction novel, Supremacy’s Shadow, is due in February 2018.
In his spare time, Eric hikes with his lovely wife, little girl, and crazy dog, spends time in VRChat exploring the metaverse, and participates in local events like the Baltimore Science Fiction Society Critique Circle. His first novel, Glyphbinder, was a finalist for the 2014 Compton Crook Award, and his short fiction has appeared in several magazines and anthologies.
You can read his free cyberpunk police procedural, Loose Circuit, at www.loosecircuit.com